Syria couple could be ‘at risk’ if deported from Leeds home

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CAMPAIGNERS in Leeds have launched a last-ditch bid to stop the deportation of a Syrian refugee and her husband who are due to be forcibly sent to Saudi Arabia this week.

Raja Khouja, 56, and her husband Mahmoud Alhassan, 67, had previously lived in Syria, before coming to the UK in 2010 for a holiday.

Khouja is a well-known women’s rights campaigner, who had achieved prominence as a result of her online blogs.

Her activities and prominence in the Syrian human rights movement came to the attention of the Saudi religious police, who - it is claimed - have made death threats and threatened to cut off her limbs as a result of her beliefs.

The couple had intended to return to Damascus where they had been living, but were unable to because of the ongoing conflict in the region.

After six months, their visa had expired, and they then applied to the home office for an extension.

Their passports, which have now expired, were held by the Home Office while their case was considered and has so far not been returned.

The couple are currently being detained at an immigration detention centre and are due to be deported to Saudi Arabia, where Mr Alhassan hails from, on June 25.

But friends and supporters have rallied behind the couple. A protest is set to be held outside the Waterside Court immigration centre in Kirkstall Road today.

Lydia Groenewald, a friend of the couple and a member of All Hallow’s Church, said: “It is just a terrible tragedy that they are due to be removed to a country that Raja has never lived in and it just feels as though things have been rushed through without any proper research into the risks that are very evident”.

Andrea Hill, friend and also a member of All Hallows’ Church in Leeds, added: “Raja has suffered the loss of her family members and her home in the devastation of the war in Syria.

“Raja was visiting the UK when she found herself stranded as conditions deteriorated in Syria.

“Now the UK government wants to send her to a country where she is in danger of imprisonment, mutilation and possibly much worse.”

Lawyers acting on behalf of the couple are currently in the process of submitting a judicial review.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The United Kingdom has a long and proud history of offering sanctuary to those who genuinely need it and each claim is carefully considered on its individual merits.

“But when someone is found not to need our protection, we expect them to leave the country voluntarily.

“Where they do not, we will seek to enforce their departure.

She added: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases.”